Provost Nancy Brickhouse

Season 3 - Episode 336

September 11, 2020

Provost Nancy Brickhouse
Provost Nancy Brickhouse

For Baylor faculty members, the monumental efforts to deliver interactive, engaging classes amidst the COVID-19 public health crisis necessitate learning new technologies and methods of class content delivery. In this Baylor Connections, Dr. Nancy Brickhouse, Baylor University Provost, breaks down resources to enhance class instruction both virtually and in-person and shares how the University is continuing to advance meaningful research goals to address critical challenges.

Transcript

Derek Smith:

Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections. A conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and board, discussing important topics in higher education, research, student life. I'm Derek Smith and our guest today is Baylor University Provost Dr. Nancy Brickhouse. Three weeks into this 2020 fall semester, Dr. Brickhouse and so many fantastic leaders throughout Baylor University have worked hard throughout the spring and summer into the fall to develop and execute a plan to bring students and many faculty back to campus safely. And deliver a very different looking semester than what everyone is used to, but one that delivers many Baylor distinctives, high quality education, research and more. Dr. Brickhouse, I know it's a very busy time. You and your colleagues have been doing so much hard work, and I appreciate you taking the time to join us and share about that today on the program.

Nancy Brickhouse:

Thanks for having me here.

Derek Smith:

Well, it's great to have you here. And as I mentioned, we're three weeks into this semester. Just from your standpoint, just to start out what stands out to you about what we talk about the plan and executing it and just really the way things are going three weeks in.

Nancy Brickhouse:

Well, I am very optimistic about how things are going this fall semester, it's a fall semester unlike any other, anyone has ever experienced. And we faced a very challenging set of circumstances, but we put a lot of heads together around a table and created a plan and we're executing on that plan and we're getting some very good results. We have cases of COVID-19 on campuses, we knew we would, but we're addressing those in a timely way. And our case counts are going down on a daily basis. And we continue to hope to be able to push those down even more. And we're using the tools of technology to help us keep the campus safe as well as deliver on a fabulous Baylor quality education. And the students and the faculty and the staff have just responded in a remarkable way, everyone pulling together so that we can slay this dragon and be able to have an on campus experience at Baylor University.

Derek Smith:

You mentioned the faculty Dr. Brickhouse. Well, what stood out to you about the efforts that they have made to prepare for the semester, to adjust to different modes of interacting with students and to really learn new things and then deliver them quickly at a high level?

Nancy Brickhouse:

The faculty have been absolutely amazing. Prior to the pandemic, back in the early spring, we only had 8% of our faculty who had ever taught online. And today all of them have, and they're mixing it up with a variety of different kinds of of remote and virtual learning, as well as face to face learning. And they've just been amazing. They've engaged in the professional development opportunities in a very serious way. And they're using what they know about great teaching in order to know how to also be great teachers in a different environment. So they've invested the time that they needed to learn what was needed in order to be great instructors, regardless of modality.

Derek Smith:

It certainly seems, I've seen emails that you and your office have worked hard to stay in pretty constant communication with the faculty on some high level things, answering some kind of FAQ for them. And I know everyone as you talk about executing the plan has a role to play, a distinct role to play. When we think about you in the provost's office, what are really the priority items on your agenda at the moment, and to what extent have they been priorities throughout this whole process?

Nancy Brickhouse:

So the priorities for the semester of course, have changed, in terms of the pandemic necessitating that we learn really new ways of teaching in fast order. So it was always a plan of illuminate to really deliver on a transformative undergraduate education. And that is exactly what we're doing. We're just doing it in a different way. We're developing new ways of delivering that personal Baylor quality education in a way that is transformative for our students. So that has become a very high priority. I think that what we have learned as a result of this pandemic, in terms of ways of reaching students and engaging students, will forever change the way in which we deliver education to our students. And that as we come out of this pandemic, a lot of what we have learned we'll continue to use because it's simply good teaching. And so it's been exciting to see how these external environmental factors can impose on you and in ways that you didn't expect, but enable to push you to learn things that you really needed to learn. So that's been a priority. The other thing of course, is the continued focus on the research components of illuminate, which actually are going very strong. The pandemic has had probably less of an impact on research than it has on instruction. And our research portfolio continues to increase in terms of the scale of the research that we're doing and the impact that is having.

Derek Smith:

Well, you talk about the research, certainly in our office, we get to see a lot of the great research awards that professors are getting. And we like to highlight some of them on Baylor Connections, and frankly, we don't have enough available slots on the program to highlight all the professors right now who are receiving great awards in the increases. So that is very exciting to see that continuing and as we think about some of the high level things related to instruction, before we get to that, I wanted to ask you, obviously there are logistical challenges with addressing something like this. Even related to questions that a professor might have, or what do I do if a student can't be in class because they were around someone who they feel like might've been exposed, maybe they were exposed. Those are the little things that can eat away at people's energy. So how are you helping the faculty to navigate those moments and to try to anticipate potential problems and either cut them off or give professors an answers so that they can address it and to keep their energies on, on serving the students in the best way?

Nancy Brickhouse:

I think one of the biggest challenges that faculty have had this fall is simply dealing with the large numbers of students in quarantine. One of the things that's interesting about college students is they tend to have a lot of close contacts. Now, these close contacts are oftentimes due to social gatherings of various types. But they tend to have a lot of contacts and because they have a lot of contacts, that puts a lot of students in quarantine. And so that has been a challenge for our faculty is how to deal with these large numbers when you're teaching face to face. But then you've also got a lot of students that are trying to engage remotely because they've been in quarantine. We're really working on providing our faculty with technologies that will help them, recording technologies, and figuring out ways of engaging students, both, basically two sets of students, one that's in your classroom and one that's remotely and figuring out how to engage both audiences simultaneously. The faculty you're figuring out how to do this, but I'll confess it's a heavy lift.

Derek Smith:

For sure. Seen a lot of communications with faculty, and I'm sure that will continue. And obviously you're also arming them, giving them more tools in the tool box to teach in various forms. We use terms like hybrid now and virtual, not just face to face. We had Dr. Gary Carini your colleague from the provost office on the program a couple of weeks ago. And he told us about some ways that Baylor was equipping faculty to teach at a high level and to think through technology as a tool to do so. And since seeing the news that Baylor partnered with iDesign to enhance online instruction and help professors think through that and in some new ways. And I was wondering if you could share with us, Dr. Brickhouse a little bit about that and what are some ways that's going to benefit faculty and then the students they teach.

Nancy Brickhouse:

So I'm very excited about this partnership with iDesign. They are really a world-class educational technology company. And the thing that I really like about them is that they really focus on student learning. And they put the student at the center of the conversation, with the technology to support student learning in a variety of different ways. And so this is really a professional development program, more than anything else, working with faculty to develop skills for teaching, that use technologies that help them reach those students remotely. So I think it's a great partnership. And again, it helps faculty really focus their attention on how to design instruction with the learner in mind, and then consider what kinds of tools might enable them to achieve the learning outcomes that they have their sights on for their students.

Derek Smith:

Is that what iDesign meant. They spoke at the faculty meeting last week, and when they talk about merging instructional design and in user design, the teacher in the classroom and the student at their computer, wherever they're learning.

Nancy Brickhouse:

That's right. It means starting at the end and working backwards. So you start by thinking about what it is that you're trying to achieve in this class. What is your goal? And then thinking so how do you get there? So for example, if you want the learner to better understand how the US constitution does or doesn't protect free speech, then think about, so what do you as an instructor need to do in order to help the student learn that information? And again, it's about having a variety of technological tools at your disposal, but it's not about the tools for the sake of the tools.

Derek Smith:

Well, and if people would like to listen a little more about that, if they miss Dr. Carini's episode a couple of weeks ago, he talked even a little bit more about that as well, sharing how they can think of technology as a tool. And I know Dr. Brickhouse, current students now are of a substantially different generation than you and I are, as we talk about technology, and this is something they've grown up with. So is this maybe not as heavy of a lift for them as it might be for us or those of us who went to college in a different era?

Nancy Brickhouse:

It's very funny. I think there's some real truth to that and I'll give you an example. For a lot of faculty, the idea of building a community of learners online was a pretty foreign idea. It's certainly not something I've ever done, but I will say that for our students, that's their life. They do that all the time. I mean, they're constantly doing that. And so the idea of meetings that are held remotely with everybody at a different place, again, that's not unusual for our students, but it's something that I think our faculty have picked up on pretty quickly. And I think our professional development has also really focused on this as well. And that is, the faculty to student relationship is just as important in an online environment, as it is in an in person environment. That personal relationship is different online, but it's incredibly, there are ways in which it can really be facilitated virtually. So that that personal connection is what motivates a student to learn the material. And so I think that we have learned a lot in the last few months about what our students are experiencing with technology and how we can leverage what they already know about technology in order to create some novel, at least novel for us, modes of instruction.

Derek Smith:

This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Dr. Nancy Brickhouse Baylor University, Provost. And Dr. Brickhouse shifting gears a little bit at the fall faculty meeting last week. One of the guests was a Baylor faculty member that people may likely have seen on television if they've been watching the news coverage of COVID-19 the public health crisis, Dr. Peter Hotez. He's Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, but he's also a Baylor faculty member. There's a great partnership between Baylor University and Baylor College of Medicine. And during that faculty meeting, excuse me, he really raved about the measures the university has taken to protect the wellbeing of the Baylor community. From your standpoint, what stood out to you about those efforts, and what's been most meaningful to you about seeing different aspects of Baylor leadership and the Baylor family come together on that?

Nancy Brickhouse:

Well, first of all, I have to say, I really appreciated Dr. Hotez's remarks because he's an individual who would certainly have a good understanding of how complex the current challenge is in terms of creating and both executing on a plan to mitigate the virus. So I was very appreciative of those remarks. But I have to say that the last several months in terms of the work that's been done and both planning for the fall, and now executing on that plan, has been exhilarating, to watch people from all different divisions of the university come together for common cause in order to provide an in person on campus, Baylor education. I am really blown away by the work that the Baylor community has undertaken.

Derek Smith:

That's great. We've talked about some areas, some aspects of that on the show, but what I want to ask you more specifically about too, is you mentioned at the top of the program, how strong the research efforts have continued to be. And even early on in the pandemic, I remember President Livingstone really reaffirming the commitment to the illuminate vision, excuse me, and we've seen that continue, even in this era of social distancing. From your standpoint, what are some of the highlights and how has Baylor really been able to keep that train moving, if you will, amidst the challenges that have been faced?

Nancy Brickhouse:

Well, I mean, we'll start with the fact that last year we had a very successful year in terms of acquiring new grant dollars, a 56% increase. And that means this year, we're implementing those research grants. So that's a huge elevation in terms of the size of our research enterprise. We're also implementing our new postdoc program this year, and that's going to provide additional support for faculty and sustaining programmatic research. That's going to enable us to reach that R1 status. So again, the research has continued to expand throughout the prior year and this year, as faculty are devoting more and more of their time to research and as we're hiring a new faculty who are also highly research active. We'll also be doing some hiring for academic chairs. The Give Light campaign has provided resources for a number of new academic chairs, and we'll be doing searches for four of those this year. That will again, allow us to carry out research aligned to our strategic plan. That's going to really elevate the kind of research that we're able to do and the kind of impact that we're able to have. We've also bought some very exciting new instrumentation, as a result of that fundraising that we've done, that will also enable us to attract great faculty and enable them to be highly productive once they get here.

Derek Smith:

That's fantastic. A lot of great news, and I'll share that. If people visit baylor.edu/research, they can see some of the news about those new chairs, new grants, professors are receiving some really exciting awards that have played into those numbers. But even more importantly, got to impact people through that great research that you talked about here, as we visit with Dr. Nancy Brickhouse Baylor University Provost. And Dr. Brickhouse, as we head into the final few minutes, I wanted to ask you, we welcome two new Deans to Baylor this year, Jeffry Archer, Dean of Baylor libraries and Shanna Hagan-Burke Dean of the school of education. What should we know about them and what their appointments mean for the areas that are within their trust?

Nancy Brickhouse:

So, one of the things that these two new Deans hold in common is they both have very deep experience, they're coming from outside Baylor, but both have incredible leadership experience at major research universities that are actually much larger than Baylor's. Dr. Archer comes from McGill University that has a very large sophisticated library, prior to that he was at the University of Chicago. And similarly, Dr. Hagan-Burke brings extensive research experience as well as administrative experience after being the chair of a department at Texas A&M that is as large as our school of education. So both of these individuals were very much attracted to Baylor University, for the mission of Baylor University. They also though bring incredible expertise in terms of being able to function at a high level in a research productive environment.

Derek Smith:

You mentioned they're coming from outside, and I know you had leadership experience at outside universities. You're also a Baylor grad, and we have Deans and academic leaders who come from Baylor and from outside. What's the importance of having those outside voices and also having people who have been a part of Baylor kind of, I guess, that mix, what does that mean for the growth of Baylor?

Nancy Brickhouse:

I really like the way that you put that, because I think having a mix is exactly the right thing. Having individuals at Baylor who really understand Baylor and all the intricacies of the way in which it currently operates is very important. But bringing in people from the outside also means that they're bringing experience, that can inform what we should do at Baylor. They've learned different ways of working that can oftentimes enhance the way that we do things at Baylor. So I believe in diversity, I believe in diversity of ideas and bringing a wide range of ideas to the table and talking them through in order to come up with really good answers to problems. And having individuals who, who have come to Baylor for its mission, but also have experiences that are different from the others at the table, simply brings us a wider diversity of ideas from which we can work with.

Derek Smith:

Well, Dr. Brickhouse says, so we're heading into the final moment here. I wanted to close by asking you, as you look forward now to the rest of the semester, obviously delivering an experience in the midst of some things that are challenging, but also really exciting in some ways. What for you, or maybe you most looking forward to, as you look ahead to these next several weeks here as we get deeper into the fall?

Nancy Brickhouse:

Well, I just look forward to continuing to focus on delivering on the mission of Baylor University. How we're able to make a difference in the lives of students and how we can be a positive witness in the world.

Derek Smith:

Well, that's great. Well, we'll look forward to that and we know how busy it's been, and we really appreciate your time on the program today. Dr. Brickhouse thanks so much for joining us.

Nancy Brickhouse:

Thank you.

Derek Smith:

Dr. Nancy Brickhouse, Baylor University, Provost, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, and a reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections.